“It’s not fair!”

Is this what your children declare every time they don’t like a decision you’ve made?

Somehow, children learn early on that by playing the “fair” card, they can stop an issue in its tracks and turn things around in their favor. Or at least they think they can. But we grownups are one step ahead of them and we’re armed with an equally powerful trump card. The almighty “Life isn’t fair.”

Yesterday I was part of a conversation with some other blogging moms about fairness. It’s hard on a mom when she tries to meet the needs of one child in a unique way, but the other children see it as being unfair, and they’re not too shy to let their opinion be known… several times… complete with what looks a lot like a demand for the same thing to be done for them.

What’s a mom to do? Give in and give the other children the same thing that was given to the one child? Or the other alternative, tell them “Life isn’t fair”, and consider the conversation over?

Personally, I can’t accept either option. The first is not fair at all, and the second sends a damaging and false message.

Let’s look at the “go-to” argument stopper; “Life isn’t fair”.

Here’s my problem with that statement coming out of the mouth of a mother.

  • It says to a child “Life inside this house is no different than life out there in the big, harsh world.”
    As for me, my house will always be a different experience from what my children will face outside of my sphere of influence. In my house there will be fairness.
  • It sends a clear message; “Get over it, your opinions are irrelevant here, and I have no time to entertain them.”
    This is not the kind of relationship I have with my kids. You cannot teach your children when you use your authority to shut down communication.
  • It is admitting that the situation is indeed unfair, when in reality it’s probably completely fair, but not equal.

So am I stuck with giving in and making it “fair” by giving the other children what the one child received? This could be anything from a later bed time for an older child, easier chores for a younger child, a special coffee date with mom, an iPod or a Facebook account, or a birthday party. (No, my children don’t get a present on their sibling’s birthdays.)

No, because if we’re really talking about fairness, that wouldn’t be fair at all. Children have different needs at different times. When I meet my children’s needs on an individual basis, it is completely fair. When I try to make all of their experiences the same, that’s equality, and equality is not fair. (Ever heard of socialism?)

So what do I do?
I’m so glad you asked.

I tell my kids that fair does not mean equal.  And then we talk about what fair means, and what equal means. I might tell a younger sibling that “equal” would mean that he gets an iPod on the same day that his much older sister gets one. But it also means that he has to do the same chores, and the same homework that she does, and go to bed by himself with no stories like she does. (Hmmm, who’s looking for fairness now?) I might switch it right around and show the older one that no, her younger brother doesn’t do his own laundry. And if she’d like to be equal, I’d be glad to do hers. And she can have an iPod when her brother turns 13. *see disclaimer below

Do you see the difference in fairness and equality? Equality means everyone gets the same thing at the same time. Fairness means everyone gets what they need (and lots of times what they want) at the appropriate time and in the way that fits them.

My conversation with those other moms was fun and encouraging. It helped us flesh out the details of what fair really means, and what it doesn’t.

My friend Lori also wrote about it on her blog today and did a great job. She’s more gracious than I am, and provides some great object lessons for you to do with your kids, so be sure and check out her article here. http://www.everydaytruth.net/2013/05/22/thats-not-fair/

And before you go; there’s just one more little thing we need to deal with.

We adults do it too.

We might not say it out loud but we think it. We wonder why someone else got the job we wanted, or gets to have a huge ministry, or 7 kids, or a wonderful husband, or a beautiful home, or grandparents nearby, or a great church.  It’s not fair.

I’m talking to myself when I say this; be careful what you accuse God of. The only thing that resembles unfairness coming from God is the fact that I’m not condemned to Hell even though I have no way to reconcile myself to God on my own.  Maybe that’s not fair, but I’ll take it.

When I find myself feeling like I’ve been jilted out of some great blessing that I see another woman enjoying I imagine what it would be like if I insisted on equality and got it. Do I want her entire life?

Just like it is?


Then how about I settle down and be thankful for my unique blessings that God bestowed on me personally, at just the right time, in just the right amount, and let “fairness” be what it is.

Maybe our children will “get it” a little easier when we get it ourselves.

**In her defense, my daughter does not complain that my son doesn’t do his own laundry. But yes, he does think that he too should have an iPod. He’s 5.


Image courtesy of Clare Bloomfield FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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